Debbie Edwards

Cheating has doubled in the past year at UTD, according to statistics provided by Darrelene Rachavong, dean of students, but she is confident that the numbers do not point to a worsening problem.

In fall 2003, approximately 130 cases of cheating were reported – 109 of which were punished as compared to 55 at the same time the year before – said Rachavong, who handles academic dishonety incidents on campus. But she said she didn’t believe those numbers indicated that the problem has increased.

“I think students and faculty have just become more vigilant (about reporting cheating),” Rachavong said.

The punishment for students caught cheating or plagiarizing ranges from a lower grade on the assignment to suspension or expulsion from the university, Rachavong said. She added she has suspended two people in the past for second offenses.

Cyrus Cantrell, associate dean of engineering & computer science (ECS), is chairman of the faculty senate subcommittee on academic integrity. He attributes some of this vigilance to ECS Dean Bob Helms who stressed the importance of combating cheating before the faculty senate.

UTD has a bad name among some community employers, Cantrell said. He cited a 1996 e-mail sent to the ECS faculty concerning a student who was applying for a job. The student was told graduates from UTD do not always perform as expected.

“A lot of companies in the Dallas area do not put much stock in a computer science degree from UTD or (in a UTD) GPA because of all the cheating that goes on in the undergraduate and graduate programs,” according to the e-mail. “It isn’t a plus to have UTD listed on your resume.”

In 2002, the Faculty Senate adopted a report drafted by an academic integrity subcommittee to remedy the problem. The report evaluated the issue of cheating at UTD and made four suggestions.

“Until there’s movement from the administration, nothing will happen,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said he believes the administration is completely mired in other concerns.

The only measure recommended by the report that has been implemented to date is that forms to report academic dishonesty have been made available on the UTD intranet and at the office of the Dean of Students. However, training teaching assistants as proctors and creating a testing center has not materialized. Using a check-in/check-out procedure for examinations is practiced by some professors, but is not university-wide, Cantrell said.

Cheating on exams is not the bulk of the problem, though, Rachavong said. Most of the cases she deals with involve plagiarism and unauthorized collusion (collaboration on school work), she said.

Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President Sophie Rutenbar attended the Nov. 17 meeting of the academic integrity subcommittee. She said the subcommittee has created a brochure to distribute among faculty members as some professors are not even fully apprised of policies and procedures.

Additionally, the committee discussed the use of Turnitin.com and MOSS , online search engines that easily detect plagiarism in writing and computer code, Rutenbar said.

Other possible future measures for large exam situations include use of a Comet Card reader, conducting the test in a classroom different from that of lecture and mixing up students from other class sections.

Rutenbar said her “pet project” is to develop a written honor code, but is still in the research stages.

Under former SGA President Paul Tran, a written honor code was voted in and submitted to the UT System Board of Regents in 2002, she said. The code was rejected based on liability issues if students were compelled to sign it, she added.

Even if Rutenbar’s honor code were approved, she only hopes to minimize the problem.

“No school has no cheating,” Rutenbar said. “The goal is to reduce cheating as much as possible with the ways we have available so that (it) does not become endemic.”